Approximately 48% of charter schools are authorized by local educational agencies (LEAs). Authorizers are the entities granted jurisdiction by a legislature to approve, oversee, and renew charter schools. These are typically public agencies, such as local school districts (i.e. LEAs) and state departments of education (also referred to as state educational agencies or SEAs). In some states, however, the legislature may grant non-educational governmental agencies (i.e. a municipality or mayor's office; NEGs), higher education institutions (HEIs), independent charter boards (ICBs), and/or non-profit organizations (NPOs) authorizing ability as well.
Authorizers play an important role in the charter sector. These entities decide whether or not a school may open, what standards must be met for it to remain open, and have the power to determine if a school must close. Charter schools must demonstrate success in order to retain and renew their charter, and authorizers hold these schools to the same (or often higher) accountability standards as their district-run peers. The National Alliance’s model law recommends a state allow multiple authorizer entities (i.e. grant an authorizing body other than just the LEAs authorizing ability). However, to date, 14 states only offer one authorizing option, and eight only allow LEAs to authorize charter schools. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers defines which types of authorizers are allowed and operating in each state in their helpful resource Authorizer Types Across the Country.
LEA authorizers enrolled the largest share of charter school students (49%) in the 2018-19 school year, and oversaw 48.4% of all charter schools. LEAs are also overwhelmingly the most prevalent type of authorizer, with nearly 90% of the 963 authorizers across the country being LEAs. However, despite the overall prominence of LEAs, SEAs, and ICBs hold a higher concentration of authorizing power per entity. Although there are only 21 SEA authorizers nationwide, these entities enroll 22.1% of charter students and oversee 21.3% of charter schools and campuses. Similarly, ICBs authorize approximately 15% of student enrollment, as well as approximately 15% of schools and campuses. NPO authorizers only exist in Ohio and Minnesota, while the two NEG authorizers only operate in Indiana, which likely explains why those two entity types are rarest overall.
Table 6.1 Authorizer Type by Count of Authorizers, Enrollment Share, and School and Campus Share, 2018-19
|Authorzier Type||Count of Authorizers||Enrollment Share||School and Campus Share|
The top 10 LEA, SEA, ICB, and HEI authorizers with the largest total enrollment account for 56% of all charter school students. To that end, we have listed these entities in the tables below. Top 10 lists for NPO and NEG authorizers are not included in this analysis due to their small overall size.
The largest LEA authorizer by enrollment total is the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”). With 154,006 students, LAUSD alone accounts for nearly 5% of the nation’s charter school students. Unsurprisingly however, the LEA authorizers with highest enrollment levels are those located in dense urban areas or highly populated counties with many charter schools.
Table 6.2 Top 10 LEA Authorizers by Total Enrollment, 2018-19
|Los Angeles Unified School District||154,006|
|Miami Dade County Public Schools||68,439|
|Philadelphia School District||65,949|
|Chicago Public Schools||56,859|
|Broward County Public Schools||46,249|
|Orleans Parish School District||45,911|
|Hillsborough County Public Schools||24,384|
|New York City Chancellor's Office||23,171|
|San Diego Unified School District||21,529|
|Denver Public Schools||20,620|
The largest SEA authorizer by enrollment total is the Texas Education Agency (“TEA”). TEA accounts for 88% of Texas charter school students, which is significant given the state’s status as one of the biggest charter sectors nationwide. Overall, TEA enrolls approximately 9.5% of charter school students in the United States. The North Carolina Department of Education, New Jersey Department of Education, and Massachusetts Department of Education, which also have some of the highest enrollment levels, each account for 99-100% of charter students in their states.
Table 6.3 Top 10 SEA Authorizers
|Texas Education Agency||314,378|
|North Carolina Department of Education||110,543|
|New Jersey Department of Education||51,999|
|Massachusetts Department of Education||46,954|
|Pennsylvania Department of Education||37,339|
|Arkansas State Board of Education||35,432|
|New York State Education Department||32,344|
|New Mexico Public Education Commission||14,340|
|Delaware State Board of Education||14,232|
The Arizona State Board for Charter schools (“ASBCS”) is by far the most prominent ICB authorizer as of the 2018-19 school year. ASBCS enrolls 205,148 charter school students, which is approximately 6.2% of all charter students nationwide and almost 99% of all charter students in the state of Arizona. Other top ICBs also appear to be the primary authorizers in their respective states. The Utah State Charter Board, Nevada State Public Charter Authority, and the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board each account for approximately 80%-100% of charter school students in their jurisdictions. In this way, many ICBs appear similar to SEAs in that they are broad, state-wide charter authorizers.
Table 6.4 Top 10 ICB Authorizers
|Arizona State Board for Charter Schools||205,148|
|Utah State Charter School Board||74,957|
|Nevada State Public Charter School Authority||41,765|
|DC Public Charter School Board||39,085|
|Georgia State Charter School Commission||30,878|
|South Carolina Public Charter School District||24,058|
|Idaho Public Charter School Commission||18,627|
|Charter School Institute (CO)||18,268|
|Hawaii Charter School Administrative Office||11,565|
|Tennessee Achievement School District||9,536|
For HEI authorizers, New York’s SUNY Charter Schools Institute had substantially the greatest total enrollment for the 2018-19 school year. With 90,791 students, the SUNY Charter Schools Institute comprises nearly 3% of nationwide charter enrollment and nearly 62% of New York charter enrollment. While HEI authorizers in general only make up about 10% of the charter sector in terms of both schools and students, it is notable to point out that six of the top 10 HEI authorizing agencies are based out of Michigan.
Table 6.5 Top 10 HEI Authorizers
|SUNY Charter Schools Institute||90,791|
|Ohio Council of Community Schools||33,524|
|Grand Valley State University||33,269|
|Central Michigan University||28,305|
|Bay Mills Community College||23,604|
|Rose State University||21,305|
|Ball State University||17,194|
|Saginaw Valley State University||10,931|
|Lake Superior State University||9,379|
|Ferris State University||9,204|